Company promises flights to the moon aboard recycled Soviet space station
The moon may soon be a tourist destination for millionaires with Excalibur Almaz, a British spaceflight firm, preparing to sell $150,000 tickets aboard a 1970s Soviet space station retrofitted with new thrusters
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In addition to electric thrusters to propel a space station to the moon, Excalibur Almaz must pay for the development of digital flight-control computers, life support systems and an in-space propulsion system. Dula indicated that his company has spent about $150 million on the in-orbit space propulsion module.Skip to next paragraph
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"The cost is say $250 million; we already have much of the nonrecurring expense [engineering research and development] paid for this," he said. This propulsion system is based on the European Space Agency's Automated Transfer Vehicle's propulsion module. EADS Astrium is a contractor for Excalibur Almaz. Another contractor is Russian military and industrial joint stock company Mashinostroyenia.
Building on the past
Dula emphasized the investment by the Soviet Union that Excalibur Almaz was able to leverage. "We already have a proven [RRV] emergency escape system that's operated nine times and one time in an actual failure, a real test and it worked," he said. "We have reissued all the drawings for this emergency escape system to modern standards, they are ready to be built and we have a cost estimate for the first ten units."
According to Excalibur Almaz, the Almaz program saw nine unmanned RRV test flights and use of the spacecraft for ferrying equipment and cargo to the Almaz space stations. The RRVs were in orbit for up to 175 days, and while docked with the station they were occupied to validate the life support system. While the RRVs spent time in only low-Earth orbit, the heat shield is designed to cope with the greater heat experienced from a moon-return trajectory.
Dula said that the RRV capsules can be reused up to 15 times each, according to their Russian manufacturer. "We performed technical feasibility studies of the RRV and their subsystems as well as launch vehicle compatibility and the overall program architecture," he told the Society's conference audience. [The 5 Most Promising Private Spaceships]
Dula also said that his space transportation system could be used by individuals, governments and private companies that wanted to conduct research or bring metals back from near earth objects, such as the billionaire backed Planetary Resources firm plans to do. He added that where governments wanted to operate on the moon, Excalibur Almaz could deliver a telecommunications satellite that would serve the moon from a Lagrange point 2 orbit and gave a price of $75 million. The L2 location is 930,000 miles (1.5 million kilometers) from Earth, away from the sun.
The company also plans to offer other lunar Lagrange point services, such as deep space technology testing for $150 million per mission, and payload delivery to the lunar surface for $350 million. For lunar payload delivery, Excalibur Almaz is researching momentum transfer using tethers. Momentum from the 63,800-pound space station orbiting the Earth would be transferred to the payload using a tether and that payload would then be propelled to the moon.
In terms of Excalibur Almaz's wider business plans, Dula said, "we've got unmanned research missions, human transportation and tourism. We have commissioned market studies. We have never announced these before. We have a complete business plan for cargo deliveries for the International Space Station, we just haven't released it." He added that if NASA reopened bids for supplying International Space Station cargo, he would respond.